For a while I owned an ST1100, and every year as Big Red’s new models and updates were announced, the speculation would begin amongst the denizens of the ST1100 mailing list. Half wish list and half rumour mill (a friend of a friend’s second cousin works at Honda and…) the faithful would speculate on Honda’s next generation of sport-tourer and successor to the venerable ST1100. The new ST would be lighter, have improved ABS, an adjustable wind screen, it would handle better, it would keep or better the current bike’s massive tank range, it would be closer to the VFR… it went on and on.
Then one year pictures were leaked on the net, it was the ST1300. The community was abuzz. Honda had listened; weight savings were there, range was there, a different look, electrically adjustable screen… the wishes were granted. Honda had listened, but you know what? Yamaha heard.
The FJR 1300 entered the North American market in ï¿½03 after an ï¿½02 release in Europe, and was updated for ï¿½04. This bike is what the ST1300 could have been if Honda had listened and heard. The FJR1300, to me, is the missing link between the near-Goldwing opulence of the ST1300 and a Honda VFR or Triumph Sprint ST. Strangely, the styling even looks like an intermediary, but with Yamaha cues.
At a standstill the bike presents a perceptually low profile; itï¿½s a trick, sitting in the cockpit of the FJR you realize it is a big bike. The ergonomics feel quite similar to the ST with a comfortable upright and slightly bent forward seating position and good leg-room, though the ST may be a bit less forward and the mini-wingï¿½s windscreen isnï¿½t as far in front of you.
Once you get the FJR out on the road you realize the inherent difference in the bikes: the FJR is a whole lot sportier. The engine has power the ST1300 didnï¿½t even dream of. At an easy 120 pounds less (the FJR comes in at about 600lbs with bags and the ST at 720lbs). This leaves the FJR a whole lot lighter and a lot easier to paddle around the parking lot. But why paddle in the parking lot when you can ride; at low speed the FJR feels light and nimble, a pleasant surprise for anyone coming from another ï¿½bigï¿½ bike to it, or even from a sport bike.
The handling thankfully doesnï¿½t stop at the low speeds, not that weï¿½d expect it would. Iï¿½ve had the opportunity to attend a track day for big bikes and a co-rider was on an FJR. It did just fine, though the ï¿½03s have a propensity to scrape hard bits much earlier in a hard riding session than the ï¿½04s.
That the ï¿½04s have already seen upgrades has to be a good indication of the FJRï¿½s future and Yamahaï¿½s contact with ï¿½the peopleï¿½. People were clamouring for beefier suspension (adjustable in ways an ST owner can only dream of) and they got it. Other updates were integrating the turn signals into the fairing and an improved windscreen (wider and taller than the ï¿½03ï¿½s). Most of these updates and the rest of the bike put on a great showing during the test ride.
The bike handled corners with aplomb, and just for kicks I was running both front and rear on the soft settings. Road noise and bumps were soaked up well by the front, but a good feel for the road remained. The engineï¿½s 126ï¿½ish (depending on which rear wheel dyno you believe) horses imbued me with the superpower of making things in the rear views very small, very quickly, and the brakes were ample in bringing me back to reality. I did find that the ABS was easy to provoke even with clean road conditions, so getting a handle on the braking might take a bit of finesse. Coming from the K1200RS Iï¿½m used to just pulling on the front lever and letting the linked braking do a bit of thinking for me.
Passing was a doddle, no, correction, it was REALLY good fun! Using the power was easy and throttle response was good. Heck it was more than good, in the wrong hands it could be used for downright uncivilized things. I donï¿½t wheelie, but I idly found myself wondering that if I were a person who did wheelie how easy it would be on this bike. Instead I just took a series of on and off ramps and a riverside road at uncivilized speed seeing just how much they had improved the suspension. Luckily the binders are very effective at dropping you out of warp at the merest hint of the local speed tax collectors.
Conveniently, construction saw fit to spray down a 2 km section of road with thin mud for my test ride allowing me to test the bike in the wet. It was firm and planted, though I found myself having to watch the application of power closer than with the ST1300 or K1200RS. The power comes on stronger and more suddenly, this could be a little disconcerting in low traction conditions.
Weather protection was probably equal to that of the K1200RS, though sadly the ST1300 had the FJR trumped in a big way here. The FJRï¿½s air pocket seemed a little misplaced to the aft. I spent a good portion of the ride playing with the windscreen at speed, positioning it and repositioning it, in and attempt the quiet ï¿½the Worldï¿½s Loudest Helmetï¿½ but without much luck. Then I began to trace the airflow with my hand to determine where the ï¿½bubbleï¿½sï¿½ boundaries were ï¿½ and I came to a stunning realization.
This is not a tourer.
This is a sport-bike.
Well maybe the FJR is a big sport-bike that has been made to look like a tourer ï¿½ at least in design philosophy. Lean forward with the windscreen up like you were on an out-and-out sport-bike, the R1 say, and the protection is fineï¿½ almost regardless of the windscreen position. It was as if the folks at Yamaha designed their 1298 cc super-sport-tourer, realized it was too sport-bike, put some bar-backs on it, then popped ï¿½round the corner for a rousing session of karaoke and sake and called it a design day. This may be the only sport-tourer which will find people buying bar-forwards to bring them closer to the distant screen while moving through the countryside at an extra-legal clip (and thatï¿½s just the corners).
Other quirks were minor. I found the bars buzzy, though it may be different once the bike is broken in. It wasnï¿½t hand numbing over the course of the test ride, but it was intrusively noticeable. A set of gel grips would easily sort it.
The other issue is the price. For $18,899 CDN (ABS model) the bike didnï¿½t gel for me, not in comparison to the creature comforts and product maturity of the ST1300 (despite it being a ground up redesign). A reduction in price and the ferocious FJR would truly fulfill the unique niche between the luxo-barges like the ST1300, R1150RT and the likes of the VFR and Sprint ST.
Special Thanks to Pacific Yamaha/BMW for the test ride of the FJR-1300.